Yosef and Megillat Esther

Introduction

The plethora of similarities between the Yosef narratives and the Book of Esther have been noted by many exegetes.1  There is significant overlap between the general setting of the stories, the events that transpire, and the characters of the protagonists.  Moreover, these content parallels are buttressed by numerous linguistic similarities, suggesting that the author of Megillat Esther was intentionally inviting the reader to compare the two sagas.

Plot Parallels

 The table below charts many of the content similarities between the two narratives:

Backdrop
  • Exile – Each of the Yosef saga and the story of Esther take place in exile (Egypt and Persia).
  • Position of power – Yosef, Esther, and Mordechai all rise to power in the king's palace, positioning them to aid their brethren.
  • Children of Rachel – In each narrative, the main protagonists are descendants of Rachel.2
  • Hand of Hashem – God's hand remains in the background in both stories.  His name is not mentioned at all in the Book of Esther and He speaks only once (and never explicitly acts) in the entire thirteen chapters of the Yosef saga.3
  • Live happily ever after? Though both stories end with a Jew rising to power and an immediate threat to survival eliminated, in neither is there a complete victory.  The Jews of Persia remain in exile and Yaakov's sons stay in Egypt, only to be enslaved a generation later.
Yosef and Esther
  • Beauty and charm – Both Yosef and Esther are marked by exceptional beauty and charm.
  • Dual name – Yosef is given the name Tzafenat Paneach, and Hadassah is known as Esther.4
  • Hiding of identity – Yosef disguises himself in front of his brothers, while Esther hides her Jewish identity from Achashverosh.  Both reveal themselves at the end of the story.
Yosef and Mordechai
  • Refuse to be swayed – Yosef rejects Mrs. Potiphar's daily advances, while Mordechai rejects Haman's daily demand that he bow.
  • Second in command – Both Yosef and Mordechai rise to be second to the king.
  • Signs of kingship – Both characters are given the king's signet ring, dressed in royal finery, and paraded through the streets on the king's horse/chariot, as others proclaim their royal status.
  • Good deeds forgotten – Yosef is forgotten by the butler, only to be remembered two years later when Paroh's sleep is bothered by dreams. Mordechai's saving of the king's life is similarly ignored until the king's turbulent sleep leads him to read a record thereof.
The King
  • Punishing of eunuchs – Paroh imprisons the butler and baker, while Achashverosh hangs Bigtan and Teresh.
  • Party – Both celebrate parties at which fateful events occur.
  • Troubled sleep – Paroh's sleep is plagued by inexplicable dreams, while Achashverosh's uneasy sleep awakens him.
Yaakov's Family and Mordechai and Esther
  • Mourning – Upon hearing distressing news, both Yaakov and Mordechai don mourning garb and refuse to be consoled.
  • Reluctant agreement – Yaakov and Esther both reluctantly agree to the plan of their relative to save their nation / family from harm, recognizing that it might cost them their son/life.
  • Plea – Both Yehuda and Esther plea for salvation (for Binyamin / the nation) before the ruler, claiming that they cannot bear to see evil befall their loved ones.

Literary Allusions

Throughout the Book of Esther there are continuous allusions to the Yosef narrative.  These range from short phrases to almost complete verses:

EN/HEע/E
סיפורי יוסף  (בראשית ל"ז-נ')מגילת אסתר  (א'-י')
(לז:לד) וַיִּקְרַע יַעֲקֹב שִׂמְלֹתָיו וַיָּשֶׂם שַׂק בְּמָתְנָיו וַיִּתְאַבֵּל עַל בְּנוֹ יָמִים רַבִּים (ד:א) וַיִּקְרַע מָרְדֳּכַי אֶת בְּגָדָיו וַיִּלְבַּשׁ שַׂק וָאֵפֶר וַיֵּצֵא בְּתוֹךְ הָעִיר וַיִּזְעַק זְעָקָה גְדֹלָה וּמָרָה
(לט:ו) וַיְהִי יוֹסֵף יְפֵה תֹאַר וִיפֵה מַרְאֶה (ב:ז) וְהַנַּעֲרָה יְפַת תֹּאַר וְטוֹבַת מַרְאֶה
(לט:י) וַיְהִי כְּדַבְּרָהּ אֶל יוֹסֵף יוֹם יוֹם וְלֹא שָׁמַע אֵלֶיהָ  (ג:ד) וַיְהִי  כְּאָמְרָם אֵלָיו יוֹם וָיוֹם וְלֹא שָׁמַע אֲלֵיהֶם 
(מ:ב) וַיִּקְצֹף פַּרְעֹה עַל שְׁנֵי סָרִיסָיו עַל שַׂר הַמַּשְׁקִים וְעַל שַׂר הָאוֹפִים (ב:כא) בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם ... קָצַף בִּגְתָן וָתֶרֶשׁ שְׁנֵי סָרִיסֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ מִשֹּׁמְרֵי הַסַּף 
(מ:כ) וַיְהִי בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי יוֹם הֻלֶּדֶת אֶת פַּרְעֹה וַיַּעַשׂ מִשְׁתֶּה לְכָל עֲבָדָיו (א:ג) בִּשְׁנַת שָׁלוֹשׁ לְמָלְכוֹ עָשָׂה מִשְׁתֶּה לְכָל שָׂרָיו וַעֲבָדָיו 
(מא:לד-לה) וְיַפְקֵד פְּקִדִים עַל הָאָרֶץ...
וְיִקְבְּצוּ אֶת כָּל אֹכֶל הַשָּׁנִים הַטֹּבוֹת 
(ב:ג) וְיַפְקֵד הַמֶּלֶךְ פְּקִידִים בְּכָל מְדִינוֹת מַלְכוּתוֹ וְיִקְבְּצוּ אֶת כָּל נַעֲרָה בְתוּלָה טוֹבַת מַרְאֶה
(מא:לז) וַיִּיטַב הַדָּבָר בְּעֵינֵי פַרְעֹה (ב:ד) וַיִּיטַב הַדָּבָר בְּעֵינֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ
(מא:מב) וַיָּסַר פַּרְעֹה אֶת טַבַּעְתּוֹ מֵעַל יָדוֹ וַיִּתֵּן אֹתָהּ עַל יַד יוֹסֵף  (ג:י) וַיָּסַר הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶת טַבַּעְתּוֹ מֵעַל יָדוֹ וַיִּתְּנָהּ לְהָמָן בֶּן הַמְּדָתָא
(ח:ב) וַיָּסַר הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶת טַבַּעְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱבִיר מֵהָמָן וַיִּתְּנָהּ לְמָרְדֳּכָי
(מא:מב-מג) וַיַּלְבֵּשׁ אֹתוֹ בִּגְדֵי שֵׁשׁ ... וַיַּרְכֵּב אֹתוֹ בְּמִרְכֶּבֶת הַמִּשְׁנֶה אֲשֶׁר לוֹ וַיִּקְרְאוּ לְפָנָיו אַבְרֵךְ... (ו:ח-ט) יָבִיאוּ לְבוּשׁ מַלְכוּת... וְהִרְכִּיבֻהוּ עַל הַסּוּס בִּרְחוֹב הָעִיר וְקָרְאוּ לְפָנָיו כָּכָה יֵעָשֶׂה לָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הַמֶּלֶךְ חָפֵץ בִּיקָרוֹ
(מג:יד) וַאֲנִי כַּאֲשֶׁר שָׁכֹלְתִּי שָׁכָלְתִּי (ד:טז) וְכַאֲשֶׁר אָבַדְתִּי אָבָדְתִּי
(מד:לד) כִּי אֵיךְ אֶעֱלֶה אֶל אָבִי... פֶּן אֶרְאֶה בָרָע אֲשֶׁר יִמְצָא אֶת אָבִי (ח:ו) כִּי אֵיכָכָה אוּכַל וְרָאִיתִי בָּרָעָה אֲשֶׁר יִמְצָא אֶת עַמִּי
(נ:ג) כִּי כֵּן יִמְלְאוּ יְמֵי הַחֲנֻטִים (ב:יא) כִּי כֵּן יִמְלְאוּ יְמֵי מְרוּקֵיהֶן
Yosef Stories (Bereshit 37 – 50)  Megillat Esther (1 – 10)
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

 

Analysis

Contrasts

Despite the many similarities above, there are some major points of contrast between the narratives:

Implications

It is perhaps the exilic setting that is the most central aspect in accounting for the similarities between the stories:

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